Men leave UN "Barbershop" after vow to push for gender equality

The United Nations closed its "Barbershop Conference" on Thursday with prominent male diplomats - and a 13-year-old boy - pledging to recruit men and boys to advance gender equality and end violence against women.

Reuters| Updated: Jan 16, 2015, 10:41 AM IST

New York: The United Nations closed its "Barbershop Conference" on Thursday with prominent male diplomats - and a 13-year-old boy - pledging to recruit men and boys to advance gender equality and end violence against women.

The first meeting of its kind at the UN, the two-day gathering with hundreds of attendees was an offshoot of the HeForShe campaign launched last September by UN Women, the global body`s agency for women`s empowerment, to engage men and boys in promoting gender equality.

The hope of its sponsors, the governments of Iceland and Suriname, was that the conference would spark the kind of discussions men have within the primarily male domain of the barbershop.

"We had a very simple goal to have a space at the UN filled with at least 70 percent men," said Henry Mac-Donald, Suriname`s ambassador to the UN. "In order to engage men, you have to find a way for them to communicate and have them come. And they came."

The presence of women, whom some feared would be excluded from the conference, did not inhibit frankness from the men, according to the sponsors.

Iceland`s Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson said he was pleased with the large number of male diplomats at the conference. More than 100 high-level U.N. diplomats were among the 300-plus in attendance.

The most gratifying thing, he said, "was the openness we found. Men were ready to share their feelings... and take this issue to another level."

Many participants were outspoken in the closing sessions on Thursday, with the most impassioned comments coming from men who said they have daughters.

Referring to Pakistani Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban for advocating for girls` education, Swedish Health Minister Gabriel Wikstrom said, "If a 15-year-old schoolgirl could speak out about simple equality, knowing the risks, then gentlemen, perhaps we should really man up."

The youngest speaker was Max Bryant, a 13-year-old boy from New Jersey who raised funds to send 18 girls to school for a year.

"I`m not here because I feel sorry for girls who can`t go to school. I think it`s unfair that people can be denied education because they have an additional X chromosome," he said.

At the close of the conference, ambassadors to the UN from Palestine, Latvia, the Netherlands and Tunisia were among those pledging to work to engage boys and men in promoting gender equality.

Masood Khan, Pakistan`s ambassador to the UN and the father of two daughters, joked that he was taking the most concrete step for the HeForShe campaign by vacating his office next month so his country`s first female ambassador to the UN, Maleeha Lodhi, could occupy it.